Bhutan – A Land of Harmony and Happiness

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. – Maya Angelou

This marked my first trip out of the country, so it was very special for me and Bhutan certainly lived up to the expectations. It is as alien as it is familiar, it is a foreign country but gives you the feel of home as well. So, here’s how it went…

Day 1

Has it ever happened to you? You reach the Gate Number as listed on your boarding pass just on time only for it to change to the gate that is at the opposite end of the Airport and you run and when you are almost halfway there, the announcer changes the Gate Number again? No? Well, it happened to us. So, we settled in the flight and for my delight it had a number of empty seats, so there was only one thing to be done in that case, Photography!

You can see Mt Kanchenjunga in the above pictures.

We also witnessed the region of North East India that has been hit by the massive flood.

After 2 hours and 20 minutes, we landed at Paro Airport, one of the magnificent airports in the world, while landing, the plane has to descent between two mountains on each side and it’s enough to give you an adrenaline rush.

Our travel agent was waiting outside the airport with the car, and we were transported to Thimphu directly. On the way, we noticed things that were astonishing, even though the country is in Himalayan range and has the looks of Indian hill stations, the air is pure, architecture is orderly and the roads are clean and there is no traffic on the road and no one honks! People are so diligent and patient. Taxis and shops are run by women and everyone is dressed in the national dresses, Gho for men and Kira for women and every citizen has to wear them during official hours. There are no traffic lights in the city and traffic is manually controlled by Traffic Police. We had the whole evening to explore markets ourselves.

Found some cool things for souvenirs

Day 2

Woke up early as we had to collect the travel permit for Punakha from Thimphu office and it can’t be obtained from any other place. We went down to have breakfast only to know that we didn’t order it last night, so nothing was prepared and the raw material was also finished. There, we came to know that even though it is the capital city, people lead a simple and leisure life here. All the shops or restaurant opens after 10AM, so we had to starve for like another 3 hours. Luckily, it was a weekday, thus, at least we got our permit. From there, we covered Thimphu Chorten, Buddha Dordenma Statue, National Folk Heritage Museum, Takin National Reserve, Tashichho Dzong and National Library.

One thing that I really liked about Bhutan is that they have found a way of sustainable development, they are very close to nature and believe in traditional methods of living which results in minimum wastage of resources, conservation of environment. They don’t have big industries and major source of their income is Tourism and Handicrafts.

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One way of reducing and reusing the plastic bottle waste

They don’t believe in GDP (Gross Domestic Product), instead they measure their growth by GNH (Gross National Happiness), it is a measure of how happy or satisfied the citizens of the country are. Bhutanese people keep themselves busy in religious activities in order to avoid greed, jealousy, and cravings as these are the three root evils of Buddhism and it is the most prominent religion of the country. Thus, they maintain order, harmony and happiness among each other and towards nature. They have maintained the forest coverage of 72% of the total land area and thus is the only country in the world to have Zero Carbon Emission.

So, after covering all the places and gaining a proper insight into the Buddhism and Bhutanese way of life, we went to a bar to check the young and modern life of the natives. Going to a bar in Bhutan is an amazing experience in itself, the singers sing songs ranging from Nepali, Bhutanese folk songs and old Hindi songs from 80s or 90s. All the performers have day jobs, they don’t get paid for playing music, they just gather on the stage to flame the passion of music. It is such a good place to make new contacts and friends.

The guy above had a telecom shop next to our hotel

Day 3

Today, we left Thimphu and drove to Punakha, passing the beautiful Dochu La on the way. It was covered in clouds and was drizzling all around, it was one of the most loveliest sight and it felt awesome to be there. In winters, it is covered in snow, that makes it more beautiful.

We also went to the Punakha Dzong (fortress), it is a spot where two rivers Mo Chhu (mother) and Pho Chhu (father) meet. You can also spot the Elephant Hill behind the Dzong in the above picture.

Another place that we went to was Chimi Lhakhang (infertility monastery), couples who can’t have kids go there and seek blessings to have children. There are many cards with names and a couple can even get the name of the kid predicted. The temple and near village has houses covered in Phallus decorations, and it is their belief that putting erect penises on the outside of their doors would drive evil eye or malicious gossips away from their household.

Day 4

We drove back to Paro via Dochu La and Thimphu and stopped by a local farmer’s market to buy some fruits and vegetables. All of the farming in Bhutan is organic and Food Corporation of Bhutan is very strict about using chemicals in food or drink items. The wine or beer that is sold in Bhutan is also made by 100% organic fermenting methods.

During this long drive and frequent changing of temperature and altitude, two of our candidates got fever. So, we left them at hotel in Paro to rest and made our way to Chele La- it is the pass between Paro and Haa Valley, is 3988 metres above sea level is located at around 40 km from Paro.

As we sat there, having tea and Maggi, one spectacular thing happened, the clouds thinned to reveal the whole valley and it is certainly one of the most memorable moments of my life so far.

Upon returning, we went to National Museum of Bhutan, another thing that I noticed is photography is not allowed on the inside of the premises anywhere in Bhutan, be it museum or temple or monastery or Dzong or even shops. I am quite disappointed by that. Other thing we came to know that basic healthcare and education is free for the citizens of Bhutan and private practices are not allowed, all of them have to serve His Majesty’s office. Smoking is banned throughout the country.

Day 5

All the walking, stair-climbing done on previous days was preparation for this day. We went to Paro Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche, the one who introduced Buddhism in Bhutan, flew there on the back of a tigeress and meditated there for around 3 years. It is a sacred place and is a group of around 13 temples and is situated at 10250 ft above the sea level. To reach there, first we had to drive for about 10 km from Paro, then had to trek for about 7 km, the trek is a little bit difficult and after you complete around 6 km, you have to take a staircase consisting of 800 steps to reach the temple.

Tiger’s Nest in all it’s glory

During our descent, we came across some delightful people, some were Chinese, some were Koreans, some from Bangladesh as well and locals too. To see everyone working together to reach the starting point safely was amazing, our language or ethnicity was different, but since we had the same goal, all of us were aligned and were in harmony. Something can be learned from this, I will leave it for the reader.

After Taktsang, we went to Paro market and did some souvenir shopping and even bought some groceries like Red Rice and Koka etc. and I was interested in buying a lunch basket but couldn’t find one with the cover, so had to leave it out. Lastly, we visited the lighting of Paro Dzong, which was amazing in itself.

Day 6

We arrived at airport early in the morning and said our goodbyes to the travel agent/driver that we hired. He was a great company for the trip and was a very resourceful person. We landed in Delhi at around noon after circling in air for about 20-25 minutes because of air traffic and after spending an hour in Delhi, I became irritated by the traffic and the noise from all the honking and my face had new pimples. I was finally home.

Things that would be of help if you decide to go to Bhutan :

  • Indian Currency is acceptable everywhere, 1 INR = 1 NU, but they don’t accept the currency note of 2000.
  • Get a local SIM for your phone as soon as you land, it’ll be very helpful, trust me.
  • Washrooms don’t have toilet seat water-jets, so make use of Toilet Paper.
  • Wi-Fi in most places don’t work, so be prepared to use your data pack.
  • Order breakfast before having dinner, otherwise you’ll spend the next day starving.
  • Shops and hotels don’t open up until 10AM in Thimphu, so keep some spare snacks with you at all times.
  • Some restaurants don’t add anything in the running order, so figure out beforehand, what and how much you want to eat.
  • Shop for gifts in Thimphu instead of Paro, it is cheaper in the capital.

In the end, I would say that Bhutan is a great country and if there is a heaven, it would be somewhere in Bhutan. You will not find any fast food chains or shopping malls there, all the stuff available in the market is hand made and food is pure. If other countries can manage to be 10% of what Bhutan is, I would say that humanity will survive far much longer. Commercialization and Globalization has not hit Bhutan yet, and I hope it never will.

And if you want to have a great trip like us, either luxurious or budgeted, contact the following, they won’t disappoint. They will provide and arrange everything, just drop a query mail –

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Deepak – 07679461287 / 08670786321

Prahlad – 07577346122

 

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Reminiscing Ladakh

Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.

– Pat Conroy

…an excerpt from the diary that I should have written earlier…

4th July 2015

Today marked the seventh day of this trip. Last night, I was trying to learn long shot photography from Maddy, this guy has real skills. If we had a proper tripod, god knows what would he had clicked. All the other guys were busy drinking or smoking “maal”, so won’t go into details. But, all in all slept late and still woke up early.

 

It was one of the most beautiful mornings and I am glad that Akarsh – pony tailed Hitler permitted us to have a proper breakfast by the lake, we were in no hurry to leave this beautiful place. Pangong looked quite calm this morning and sun rays were scattered over the surface, I am still in awe of that place. The bikes were arranged orderly. The flags were waving in unison. I tried taking some pictures but they didn’t come out good – I wish I had a good camera or necessary skills. Well, I will borrow the pictures from Sunil uncle after the trip.

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We made our way back to Leh today and it took us about 6 hours and we got to climb Chang La again…last time it was snowing on the top and I had slipped on the ice and the locals taught me to ride the bike (only in the muddy area) and avoid the ice. Strange, water seems to be the lesser evil here. The road is full of bumps and Subhash uncle and his wife got injured yesterday. Hanvant already had his wrist broken and David bumped his head and also had his arm swollen.

So we got back to Leh safely by lunch, and I got Sonesh to click my pictures in the snow once again, but I am severely sunburnt and looked hideous, so won’t share them. We were told that tomorrow we will be leaving for Nubra Valley and had the rest of the day for us to do whatever we want. So, I head out to nearby places. Madhav and Sumant aka Lalaji stayed back to get some rest, and I was accompanied by Somesh for the monasteries – Shey and Thiksey. We were joined by Sunil uncle and Sooraj on the way and had lunch together and afterwards, enjoyed the peace and little bit of knowledge from the monks there. Apparently there is a monk school in Thiksey and it also houses a big statue of Future Buddha there, that is the reincarnation of Buddha that is yet to be born, in case evil arise again.

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After roaming around in the city, I got the fuel tank filled upto the brim as it will be needed tomorrow and also have prepared the jerry cans. After dinner, they registered for people who want to go river rafting in Zanskar, but since I already did that last to last week in the mighty Ganga, I am passing this opportunity.

We are joined by a group of Rajasthani people for the rest of the trip, and one of these has his birthday today and his friends didn’t leave any stone unturned to get it celebrated among us.

Overall, today was one of the better days of the trip, where no one got injured and everyone was properly rested. I am calling it a night early as I still have to catch-up with yesterday’s sleep.

P.S – For the SRK inside every Indian out there –

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Nag Tibba

The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.

― Nancy Wynne Newhall

Fair warning – Don’t do what I did these past few days. I will not be held responsible for the experience that you may get by following into my footsteps.

Remember Murphy’s Law of Travel? If not, check my other post – the trip to Dalhousie. That law was applicable here too. Nothing happened as we imagined.

Nag Tibba Trek

There’s an easy way to do things and then there’s what we did. Left Delhi at night and reached Dehradun early morning, i.e 4:15 AM. Took an auto to Railway Station and waited in a queue for half an hour to get tickets to Mussoorie. Then deboarded the bus at around 8 AM. Now, all we had to do was, take a bus or cab to Nainbagh which was at around 41 KM distance. But, the bus had to be boarded from Library Chowk that is on the opposite end of the hill station. So, we started walking and walking is what we did for next 4 hours. Finally, we got to board a bus to Nainbagh and reached there at 4 PM. After having lunch there, we took a shared cab and reached Pantwari village at around 6 PM.

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Spent the night at the lounge where we slept like logs. Next morning, had breakfast and rented a tent from the only shop that provides that service.

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We started the trek at around 9:30 AM, that was apparently too late to start as the sun was already out and the day was getting hotter by the minute. There we found out that the person who was supposed to bring sunscreen lotion, had forgot to buy it. That guy in blue t-shirt in the above picture is the reason we all got sunburns. The guy in red brought a duffle bag to the trekking trip. So, these are not the smartest brains out there, I’m afraid.

After 5 KM and 5 &1/2 hours of steep ascent and countless water breaks, we reached Kathyani i.e the point where the camps were supposed to be setup, but to our surprise, there was no one, not a single person on the whole fricking mountain. The kitchen that was supposed to be present there was empty and didn’t even have a single spoon. Apparently, everyone got down that day and all the things were carried off on the mules. Now, was the right time to panic and to add to that, there came a swarm of bees and we had to drop our bags out in the open and we ran to the camp like hell, chained it from the inside and waited for it to pass.

There, we did some brain storming and remembered that there is a temple on the top, so there must be the priest, who might have utensils and stove that we can use to cook our dinner that was Maggi, we left our bags in the tent and started trekking again, this time for the top and our stomachs. After 3 KM and 2 hours of ascent, we found the temple and the priest and we told him our situation and requested him to lent us a frying pan.

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He took to his place, we called it his Haveli.

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and he let us in his kitchen to cook the Maggi, so we spent another half an hour in the kitchen where dinner was prepared and served, as he had only one plate and one spoon, we had to wait for our turn to eat.

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After having early dinner, we took our depart and started on the way down to our camp.

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The sun was set and it got dark quickly, so we used torches on our phones and slowly and steadily made our way back. In between, we encountered some dogs, but luckily were able to avoid them easily.

As we reached our camp, it was pitch black, we had some time to kill, so we collected wooden sticks and tissue papers and leaves around us and tried to start a bonfire, but  due to the wind, it was getting difficult to light it and we ran out of match sticks. As we were about to give up all hope, we found a matchbox lying near the tent. One of us, being a fan of Bear Grylls, brought his bottle of deodarant and sprayed it on the leaves, I found a cloth and lit it up and with repeated spraying, we managed to build a bonfire.

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After hanging out there for a while, we decided to call it a night and went to sleep in the tent.

I woke up early the next day, went out in the open and saw one of the most beautiful sunrise in my life. Sadly, I wasn’t able to capture the actual beauty of that morning.

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I was out there alone, with no one else around for at least 3 KM, I did the morning routine nearby and changed my clothes, it was refreshing to be out in the open, in your birthday suit. I ran around for a while and then got dressed up.

After an hour or two, when everyone else woke up. We packed the tent and started our descent. We were not able to grasp what we experienced the day before and how did we even managed that kind of feat. It took us around two hours to reach down and from there, we took a cab straight to Dehradun, which was apparently not too straight as the driver was too easy going, he took around 5 hours to cover 75 KM, taking breaks in between.

After that, we got in to the first bus that was going to Delhi and by the night, we were back to our normal lives.

So, don’t do what I did, for you might be interested in a leisure trip where things happen as planned. Book a package and go through a boring camping experience, why do I care.

If you might be wondering, why there is not a single picture that includes me, the reason is –

When I click pictures of my friends –

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vs

when they click a picture of me –

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  • FML.

Instant Crush

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.
Aristotle

 

When I started this blog, I planned to update it regularly with the things I create, be it a drawing or a photograph or anything else. But, it took procrastination, some distractions and a requirement to live in normal world to get swayed away from here.

But I am back now, with my latest work –

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She is Kate Upton, getting married this year. Another crush – gone. So, this is my way of celebrating her joy and my sorrow.

I am working on more drawings in the  meantime, will keep sharing them, and I have departed from making only the portraiture, and currently I am sailing in the uncharted waters.

Thanks for checking this out, hope everyone likes it,  and in case, it is too bold for you or you are offended by it. I would only quote the following –

If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.
Émile Zola

Single Bag Packing Checklist

He who would travel happily must travel light.       -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

As I sit here trying to fit everything into a single bag (you know, luggage restrictions) for my trip to Chennai , I made a checklist so that I won’t forget any necessary items but also, do not take unnecessary things with me. It might help you the next time you pack your bag. Only the bare essentials are mentioned here :-

Documents

  1. ID Proof
  2. Tickets
  3. Important Addresses/Phone Numbers
  4. Cash and credit/debit cards

Electronics

  1. Camera
  2. Chargers and Power Banks
  3. Earphones

Toiletry Bag

  1. Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  2. Soap and Face wash
  3. Towel
  4. Sunscreen
  5. Wet wipes
  6. Hairbrush/ comb
  7. Moisturizer

Clothes, Slippers and Prescribed Medicines

All the other items you can carry as per your requirements and availability of space in the bag.

Tip:- Always carry some plastic bags to keep the dirty or wet clothes separate from the clean ones.

Last but not the least, DO NOT forget your Sunglasses, in any case, they make you look COOL!

Ciao!!

Frenetic trip to Dalhousie

On the road, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong – Murphy’s Law of Travel

This is not your typical travel post, consisting of details about the place or things to do there. This is the summary of my personal experience and what lessons can be taken from it.

In the desperate need to escape the hot June summers of Delhi, I decided to join my sisters as they were planning a road trip to Dalhousie with their families and friends.

It was simply supposed to be a weekend leisure trip and we were 14 people, 9 adults and 5 children. Instead of using public transportation, we hired a 16 seater Mini traveler bus and left from Gurugram (previously called Gurgaon) on Friday evening, and from here, the plan only went downhill, even though we haven’t left the plains yet.

Since it was a Friday, we met heavy traffic on the route from Gurugram to Delhi and it took us about 4 hours to leave Delhi and get on the highway which at any other day would have taken less than 2 hours. Then as luck would have it, we had a slow driver. He took 15 hours to complete a journey of 10 hours. As we started the journey in the mountains, suddenly the rear door flew open and thus we met our second twist – the lock on the rear door of the bus was broken and all our luggage and kids were prone to harm. Somehow, we managed to keep it shut by holding it all the way to hotel.

We reached Dalhousie at around 12 Noon on Saturday. All our plans of getting some rest in the hotel and cleaning up went down in the river. Everyone freshened up quickly, got ready and had lunch. By 3 PM, we left for Dainkund Peak and in the next 5 hours, we had covered Dalhousie including the famous market and Dainkund Peak and other places, which I would consider to be a world record for a person who is on holiday. After having dinner back in our hotel, we called it an early night.

Sunday, we hoped to start early so that we can spend proper time in Khajjiar and Kalatop, but the Murphy’s Law was at it again. At 9AM, as the luggage was being shifted into the bus, the key broke off inside the lock of the door. I went looking for a keymaker, but at a service station, found a guy who said he could bypass the lock,so brought him back with me to the hotel and removed the steering and ignition lock and using a screwdriver, he started the bus. This in total took 2 hours, and by 11 AM we rushed off to Khajjiar Lake, at noon, the place was hot as the sun was directly above us. The lake was dry and there were hordes of people enjoying different activities. After having lunch, we made our way to Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary. On the way, some fool had parked his car in the middle of the road and it resulted in a 4-5 km long traffic jam. People waited for him to come back and called Police to get his contact details, but all in vain, after an hour or so, people got angry and lifted his car and put it aside, breaking its tail lights, number plates, bumpers in the process. The owner arrived just after that and started fighting with everyone,  then police had to intervene and all in all, it took another two hours to get out of there and reach Kalatop. It is famous as the filming of 1942: A love story and Lootera took place here.

After Kalatop, we started our journey back to Delhi and planned to visit Amritsar on the way but the driver refused to take us there as the bus was only rented till Monday morning and if we went to Amritsar, we would have reached Delhi by evening. Thus, after an heated argument with the drunk owner of the bus, we returned to Delhi on Monday morning and the hectic trip concluded.

Lessons that I would take from this trip :

  • Always double check the locks of the vehicle you have rented.
  • Make sure you are carrying spare keys and other items such as Tyre tubes etc.
  • Never book a vehicle by duration of the trip, always do the booking in terms of distance to be traveled.
  • Don’t make hectic schedule, visit lesser number of locations but spend more time to properly enjoy the vacation.
  • In a large group, take more than one camera, otherwise the person with the camera will end up frustrated.
  • Be prepared to see all hell breaking loose. Nothing  ever happens as planned.